Wednesday, June 06, 2007

JSTOR: Two clarifications

After my last conversation with Bruce Heterick of JSTOR, I had a few more questions, but our schedules didn't match up. I appreciate his making time via email to offer a couple of clarifications, address three follow-up questions, and share pointers for help with a fourth.

Heterick said my account of our talk was "fair and accurate," with two exceptions, one major, one minor:

Exception #1:

Heterick: "The minor exception has to do with your characterization of “pay-per-view” via JSTOR" [quoting from my post]:
JSTOR hadn't thought of offering a pay-per-view access before Google crawled its archive. Now, as of January, JSTOR has invited its publishers to make their titles available to unaffiliated researchers on a pay-per-view basis. Only about 150 titles are currently available, and the pricing is entirely at the publisher's discretion - which is not necessarily within most readers' reach (I've heard various prices per article: $35, $60 -- who do they think they are, the New York Times #
"Certainly, in the whole of the pay-per-view world, there are some article prices that approach the prices that you’ve referenced in your post. In JSTOR’s Publisher Sales Service, however, the average price per article is about $14, with the majority of articles available in the $4-$10 range. Perhaps those averages will move (up or down) as more participating publishers decide to offer individual article purchases via JSTOR, but that’s the data we have at the moment. The service has been popular in the brief time it has been available (I think something like 6,500 articles have been purchased thus far), so some folks are finding it helpful."

Comment: Fourteen dollars for a superannuated scholarly article - or even a brand new one - seems excessive. The internet holds multitudes, and lends itself to micropayments. E.g.: Let's say a library pays $10,000 for a year's subscription to a substantial collection of old journals -- perhaps a few million pages worth. Let's say two million pages, though it could well be more. That comes to $.0005 per page. And that gives hundreds, or thousands, of students and professors unlimited access to the journals. So, why not offer a pay-per-view model that charges individuals $.0005 per page? Granted, single downloads would not add up to much, but over time, as people became aware of the quality, scope and depth of the scholarship, volume would build. I'm not aware that JSTOR would be risking anything here, since its current subscription model would still be intact - there would just be more revenue, to allocate however it might choose. A win-win. (Update: Micro is the new macro)

Exception #2:

Heterick: "The major exception has to do with the discussion around 'open access':"
JSTOR is looking at other ways to not simply emulate Kafka. In fact, says Heterick, it once did explore an individual access model, but ran into "difficulties" -- still, the goal of open access is very much on its mind.

“It’s not a question of if we should do it but when we can do it and not devolve our preservation goals,” he says. “Would people or libraries be willing to pay to maintain JSTOR and maintain its long term mission of archiving? We don’t know… .”

Would institutional libraries continue to pay the subscription fees if the journals were openly available to all?

Heterick: "It isn’t really the case that JSTOR is thinking about “open access” as much as I was carrying forward the notion that JSTOR is always trying to “open access” more broadly to other communities (e.g. secondary schools, public libraries, developing nations). That is an important part of JSTOR’s mission (to extend access as broadly as possible), so perhaps I should have used the phrase “broaden access” instead of “open access” to avoid the confusion with much more highly-publicized “open access movement”(OA)."

Comment: I am now officially depressed. I might have misheard or misconstrued Heterick's remarks because I hadn't heard him say that there was a definite policy at JSTOR that would preclude exploring Open Access in the full sense of the term. Apparently JSTOR doesn't believe that knowledge, the scholarly intelligence of the humanities, belongs to us all. I believe JSTOR is wrong. Such knowledge is not the property of some university, archive, or middleman. It took a lot of generosity on the part of a lot of people contributing to a lot of nonprofit institutions to foster the facilities, time and wherewithal for serious scholarly work. To turn around and now tell us that the fruits of those long labors are the private stash of JSTOR and its publishers is to fail to see that the only reason the human race tolerates these institutions is in hopes that they will open our eyes, expand our minds, and give us a chance for a more human, liberated world. To commodify the fruits of this vinyard is to err in understanding the core value and original purpose of the humanities, and of education in general. A catastrophic failure of intelligence.

I'll save Bruce's responses to my follow-ups for another post.

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Blogger Unknown said...

Indeed saddened, but not surprised by the fine and crucial distinction between broad access and open access. The problems go far deeper than JSTOR and the academic/professional publishing industry. We are in need of both new techniques and new protocols for the creation and sharing of technical and scientific information at just the time at which we are also facing the end game in the battle to keep scientific research in the public sphere. (Perhaps we have already lost that game. Agricultural research anyone?)

6/07/2007 1:01 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...


I was just looking at one new technique - some fascinating stitching of data gathered from across Flickr, and other sources, into new quilts of info.

Adjacent to: the dispiriting vision of a universe that ineluctably escapes from itself, so that it can never achieve awareness:

we have the prospect of a million separate Sisyphean efforts with one species after another pushing the rock up the hill only to have it roll back down and be forgotten. #

Intellectual property policy either will connect human intelligence, or put each of us in his/her very own Casque of Amontillado. Or put some of us in a little connectivity lifeboat, and the rest of the world in a black hole. Which will it be?

6/07/2007 1:49 PM  
Blogger Roger Pearse said...

$14 a go is a fortune; far more than they are worth. No-one ever paid that amount for them in the past. This is the economics of the monopolist.

Also I am sorry to see what sounds like an official policy to restrict access to the ivory tower and its favoured clients (what sort of person is it, telling us that we have to pay our taxes to make JSTOR available for free in Zambia, etc, when we can't access it at all?)

Do we, the taxpayers, like this elitism?

6/09/2007 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, i.m willing to offer any of Jstor articles to anyone. i definitely would like to share user passwords, but these would not work very long, if server is overaccessed with queries form different IP.s but with same user accounts.
so, feel free to mail me the title of article und the Jstor link at

PS. the reason for this is i will not pay around 700/1000 us dollars per month to read the stuff

7/13/2008 3:51 AM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Thank you!

7/13/2008 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's very nice of Urdumheit. But could somebody with the appropriate affiliation perhaps program a relay bot that will do Urdumheit's thing for him?

I have just come from my public library here in New Zealand, and they charged me $5 for a 10-page JSTOR article, having to contact a university library and getting the hard copy sent through snailmail. This is on some esoteric musicological subject that interests perhaps 100 people in the world and will never pay my $5 back. I can't afford to do that often.

dekock [at] ihug [dot] co [dot] nz

9/04/2008 11:07 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Robert, one possibility might be to contact a few of the 100 colleagues and ask if anyone with JSTOR access would mind opening a little bit of it to you. Frequently I see such requests in special interest forums, often followed by expressions of appreciation a short time later.

9/04/2008 11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, thanks. There's always a solution. But I found something appealing in being able to send an email with a JSTOR item number in the subject line to and, a short while after, getting an email back with the article attached. Saves on saying please and thank you.

dekock [at] ihug [dot] co [dot] nz

9/13/2008 5:28 PM  

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